Skip to comments.Seattle's Troubled (public) Toilets
Posted on 11/03/2006 10:59:51 AM PST by llevrok
SEATTLE - It's broad daylight in the Seattle International District's Hing Hay Park. We're about to confront two men. We believe they're using one of Seattle's expensive, high-tech toilets as a crack house.
Earlier, our undercover camera caught one of them loading his crack pipe. And we watched a woman hand the other man a package. Then, the men disappeared inside the toilet.
When the doors open, I confront both men and ask them why they went inside the toilet together.
"Were you doing drugs?" I ask. They deny it but one of the men blows crack smoke in my face.
"Is that crack smoke coming out of your mouth?" I ask. "No," the man says "that's a cigarette."
Despite the man's denials I know it's crack smoke. My law enforcement sources tell me crack has a distinct, chemical odor. And, that's exactly what I smell. (Watch the video using the link above)
Unfortunately, these men are not alone.
"This is the kind of activity we see all the time," says Richard Chang. Chang owns a restaurant in the International District and says the Hing Hay toilet is nothing but trouble.
For weeks, our undercover cameras captured drug deal after drug deal in Hing Hay Park.
And people gathering inside the toilet, so many sometimes, it's hard for the doors to close.
We saw women duck inside, followed by men carrying cash. And, it happened again and again and again.
Park regulars who can't get in simply urinate outside.
"No tourist is going to go in there with that kind of scenario," says Chang, "because it's not clean."
Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr agrees. "I would never go in there," he said. "Because it does not look like a safe place that I'd like to be."
We showed Carr the results of our investigation. "From a public safety perspective, I'd like to seem them gone," he said.
Just two years ago, some city council members celebrated when the toilets hit the streets.
They were certain the five high-tech toilets, scattered from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill, would serve everyone from tourists to the homeless.
But the toilets came with a hefty price tag: more than $650,000 a year.
And a ten-year contract put taxpayers on the hook for more than $6.5 million.
"That place is, it's like meth central here, crack central, meth central, heroin central," said Randy Lewis, who owns a business across the street from the toilet on Capitol Hill.
Lewis says he saw problems almost from the start.
And outside the Pioneer Square toilet, our cameras caught drug deals.
Sandy Krause works for Seattle Public Utilities and runs the toilet program. "We're constantly looking at ways to make it better, to improve the service, to make it better, to make it safer," she said.
We showed her our undercover video. "I'm very concerned," she said. "I don't want that to go on".
After we showed city officials what we found, they met and briefed Mayor Greg Nickels.
That was three months ago.
Richard Chang is says he's still waiting for results. "Because someone needs to take some action," he said. "We should shut it down. We should not be paying for this"
The countless drug deals we captured on camera didn't come as a big surprise to those in the area.
"Is there a drug problem in this park?" I ask one man. "Yeah," he says.
Seattle City Tom Carr wishes someone would pull the plug on the toilets.
But who will solve the problem?
Two years ago, the city council overturned then Mayor Paul Schell's veto and put the toilets on the street. Today, only three of those council members who voted for the toilets remain.
When the toilets debuted, Councilwoman Jan Drago was ecstatic. Now, she won't talk to us.
Neither will Richard Conlin, even though he chairs the committee that is in charge of the toilets.
Councilman Nick Licata was the only one of the three willing to look at what our investigation uncovered. "Well, this was not my vision" he said while watching our video.
"As long as we have them, we've got to try and keep them safe" said Mayor Greg Nickels.
After we started investigating last summer, staffers briefed Mayor Nickels on what we found. What we caught on tape has now triggered change.
The city will install a surveillance camera outside at least one toilet. They're still deciding which one. And there will be new lighting for all of them.
Trespassing citations will be issued to those who loiter outside the toilets or violate the one person inside-at-a-time rule.
And the Mayor has taken the extraordinary step of asking the city council to reconsider the entire program.
"I hope that they will reconsider the wisdom of having these toilets in our city" says Nickels.
Can Councilman Nick Licata justify the continued expense of the toilets?
"I don't think we can justify keeping those toilets in those particular locations," he said.
From the Land of Hopeless Idealists
What is it today? There's a good urinal/toilet thread at:
The jokes just write themselves...
What's the big deal? I usually wait until I go into the bathroom before I take the crack out of my pants, too.
Sounds like the wolves got the sheep right where they want'em.
650000 a year for 5 toilets.
No wonder they tax us to death.
No one better talk to me about how much the war is costing.
Unintended circumstances form the lanes to the road to hell.
so liberal logic concludes that if you get rid of the toilets the drug problem will disappear.
that could describe Minneapolis,Baltimore,D.C....
...or just piss on a bum.
Every city employee / politician who voted for these should be ordered to keep the toilets clean for 1 day each.
It's always intentions that count with liberals, regardless of the results.
On a more practical note, have they considered piping classical music in and around the toilets? It's supposed to be very effective at dispersing undesirables.
I could say that I probably wouldn't, unless it's something pretty obvious...
Nanny state planning at its best!
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